Dear Mr. Bowie and the New York Theatre Workshop,
I bring wonderful news.
There is a very easy way to fix “Lazarus,” the David Bowie musical playing on East 4th Street right now. I guess the not-so-wonderful news is that there needs to be.
“Lazarus” is meant to be a stage sequel to Bowie’s star turn in “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” There’s an awful lot of money up there in the form of fabulous production design, a top-drawer cast, and a large house band. “Lazarus” could very easily be a fine evening at the theater if it stopped pretending there was any sort of narrative worth watching, if the show dropped from two hours to 90 minutes or less.
All you have to do is drop the book. Replace it with the mere suggestion of character, a tiny bit of connective tissue between songs. You’ll want to add a few more of those. “Lazarus” combines both brand new and older Bowie material, including a few favorites.
NYTW even has a blueprint for how to do this in the form of “What’s It All About? — Bacharach Reimagined,’ the wonderful more-than-a-revue it staged a couple of seasons ago. It has since moved to London.
Bowie’s music is more intrinsically theatrical than Bacharach’s — and I say this as one who worships Burt and cares a bit less for Bowie — so this is going to be quite easy.
What’s happening now is that Bowie’s music and the wonderful cast, led by Michael C. Hall, are working like mad to lift this big, soggy mess of a show in the air. The plot is monotonous. E.T. wants to go home. The existential and phenomenological questions raised are answered uninterestingly. There is less to the whole thing than meets the eye.
That does not entirely sink the ship. Hall is an amazing performer. If you know him mainly from “Six Feet Under” it turns out you really don’t know him at all. He expertly recreates Bowie’s vocal chops and hurls his body around the stage with great abandon. The (aptly) praeternatural talent onstage is Sophia Ann Caruso who is 14 years old and has the voice of a 30-year-old angel.